To Hell with Tijuana

Take Northern Baja by Storm
Photo by Erik Gauger

Brown land, dying plants, vultures. Northern Baja's piece of the Sonoran Desert is a forsaken place of wasteland flats and gnawed mountains, and as my friend Vance and I drive through it, we think we've seen it all. Suddenly, though, the landscape changes: Spindly trees called boojum give way to stocky elephant trees mixed in with wiry pcotillo plants. Bright red barrel cacti and a palm with blue leaves bring a mirage-like quality to our drive. Cardons—the tallest cactus in the world—appear, only for giant boulders to take their place. The only continuity is the rusted, abandoned cars, upside down or buried in sand, the result of hurricanes, drug deals, or a flat tire. It dawns on us that a car gone bad out here is not worth hauling back to civilization. The passengers may have a hard enough time making it themselves. We pray our wheels will keep us going.

Slender, twisted, an isolated peninsula jutting out between the Pacific and mainland Mexico, Baja is hard to get a grip on. Eight hundred miles long, most of it is empty—parched mountains, hills, and flats.

There's little rain; the aridity and isolation yield strange cacti, brilliant spring wildflowers, and giant prehistoric trees. Yet some parts are surprisingly green; along the Pacific, bamboo-lined estuaries and coastal wildflower regions break any notion about what Baja is. Vance and I intend to circle the entire northern state of Baja Norte, avoiding the grass huts and kitschy cactus glasses of touristy places like Cabo San Lucas. Instead, our plan calls for experiencing Baja through hiking, kayaking, bouldering, off-road driving, and fishing, among some of the world's most unusual and spectacular wilderness.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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